By Jashae Slaughter
I've been sitting on this idea for a song for a few years now, like 9 or 10 years, and I can never get it recorded with real musicians. The way that I write music, I try to create simple-sounding sections that will all fit together to create a big sound. While the parts tend to SOUND simple, they aren't. Because this song SOUNDS simple to play, whenever I try to run it past musicians I know, they immediately get lost. The other problem I have is that the song was written 10 years ago, and it sounds like it might be OLDER than that. I wrote it to sound like a 90's Smashing Pumpkins / Foo Fighters song, and I intend to keep it that way. Finally, I don't have a studio or a large practice space for music rehearsal. So it's hard to work directly with musicians on these kinds of
songs. Which brings me to my latest endeavor of hiring a drummer on Fiverr.
I want to break down all these problems, and how I've tried to solve them in the past.
1) The Song SOUNDS simple.
Like I said originally, one of the biggest problems with the way that I write, comes from the way that I've learned to compose. I write simple parts with minute variances that are easy to miss. If you're not paying attention, you won't learn the part. I'm not a talented musician, but I consider myself to be a proficient composer and producer. I've learned this skill by working on music software that allows me to program musical parts and then put them all together sort of like blocks or Legos. I think that this philosophy works with popular programs like FL Studio and Ableton.
I learned the methodology from working with the software, but also from watching studio sessions of musicians using looped packages of sounds. In the early years, I didn't know that you could get pre-recorded loops of riffs and other types of samples from instruments being played. This was really helpful for me to learn how to program my own loops. But even when I program my own loops, I've learned that when you're going for a live sound, if you can't get a live musician, you should at least get live loops pre-made by live musicians. I've also learned to listen to musical instruments individually when listening to songs. This was a skill that I picked up in choir and barbershop quartet, where you often have to listen to recordings of songs and focus on one part like Alto or tenor to better understand what I'm supposed to be singing. (Learning to listen to isolated parts and harmonies is an invaluable skill and I suggested to anyone looking to be a composer or producer.) I use this skill to listen to the drummers of my favorite bands and to try to learn how to program realistically. I wanted to understand where and how to put fills in drum beats.
To increase my knowledge of instrumental flow and philosophies, I would spend hours listening to specific drummers of specific bands until I understood how they played, and why they did what they did. In the early years, I listened to the drummer of The Smashing Pumpkins, of the Foo fighters, of Slipknot, and of a Japanese band called Girugamesh. I specifically listened to Linkin Park and pretty much anyone who was trying to imitate Linkin Park. when I first got started in music production this was one of my favorite bands, and I absolutely loved the idea of mixing hip hop, EDM, and rock to create modern sounds.
I also have paid pretty close attention to more modern bands like Paramore, who use more of a djent style of drumming but without overdoing it. The song that I've been working on has a weird offset timing similar to something that Disturbed would probably do. It seems to get lost whenever I try to explain it to live musicians. While I don't necessarily like the djent style, due to its tendency to switch rhythms and tempos, seemingly randomly, I do understand the amount of skill that is required to comprehend and to memorize songs of this nature. I thought that if anyone could understand the kind of off-time emphasis that I was putting on the rhythm of this particular song I'm working on, it would be a djent drummer.
Now I understand that the bands I listed here aren't the greatest, most legendary bands around. to be honest I wasn't going for that period I was looking for something that made sense for my preferences but still sounded close enough to normal, vulgar music than all of the crazy trendy stuff that my friends were listening to at the time. keep in mind I like to write my music in a way that sounds simple so that when people hear it, they understand it. I wanted to feel nostalgic. I want them to think that they know the song even though it's the first time they've heard it. I can't do that if I'm all over the place with everything. I've learned that the hard way, and I'm trying to get better at it.
Maybe it's something that comes with maturity. But this is something amateur musicians rarely possess.
2. The Song Sounds Dated.
I don't know what it is with musicians needing to keep up with the trends, but this song was intentionally written to sound like it was made in the '90s. I was doing a take on someone else's style from that era, and I must remain true to the era of that sound.
interestingly enough, whenever I work with musicians, even though they can't learn these simple parts of the song, they immediately start trying to change it into something more modern. Again, this may be something that comes with maturity, but I think what they're actually trying to do is to change it to something that they can actually play. I've had this problem with every musician I've tried to work with. They say we should make the song harder, or add some screaming, or change the speed, or a bunch of other little details and suggestions that would make the song sound like something other than what it's supposed to be.
I think it's not only annoying, but kind of disrespectful when I spend a good five to ten minutes explaining the vision of the song, and what my goal is with the song, and then they immediately try to change it into something other than what I just spent time explaining. I know that the song could have different iterations if I wanted it to. The thing is, I don't want it to. I wanted to sound the way I wrote it. I want to bring my vision to life so that I can move on to something else. Maybe the next song will be harder, or faster, or have screaming. But that's not this song. This song is supposed to sound like a '90s Smashing Pumpkins Foo Fighters crossover. That's the original vision of the song.
3. The Rehearsal Space
In today's modern age, musicians pretty much have to work satellite. Nobody invests in a practice space anymore. because music software is ubiquitous people have home studios. I can pretty easily work with another musician from a different state or country as long as we share the same vision and understanding of the song, we can put our pieces together to make something fabulous. The problem is when the musician you're working with doesn't understand or share your vision of the song. It becomes a fight between two conflicting philosophies rather than a compromise.
See when you're in the same room, the same workspace, you can stop when things start to go off the path. You can correct the mistakes, and come up with a compromise if need be. Then you continue working on the song. But when you're working satellite, every musician wants to do it his way. he wants to see it through to the end his way so that he can convince you that his way is better. So you never end up working out where the vision split off into two different songs. You never get back on track.
Like the other problems I've had in the past, this is probably one of the easiest to deal with. Because there's generally a chance that you'll end up working with a musician who understands the vision of the song. Especially if you're dealing with rappers or vocalists period for some reason it seems to flow better with the. but when you're dealing with a guitarist or a drummer, it's like herding kittens. Both guitarists and drummers are all over the place, doing their own thing. they get bored easily. They keep changing the song and adding parts that don't belong. I think they forget that they're not the only instrument that's going to be playing during this part of the song and they feel like they need to fill the void.
I honestly don't understand why this is so prevalent with guitarists and drummers. but it's the biggest hurdle to overcome when you're trying to compose rock music, even if you're just trying to get supporting elements for a song already created.
4. That One AMAZING Drummer
So now that all the pieces are together, this is the experience that I've had with my latest endeavor in hiring a far superior drummer than what I needed for my project. Because I've had so many problems with musicians trying to change the song, getting bored, not being able to learn the parts, trailing off track, etc., I thought maybe it's about time that I just hire a professional to get the job done.
Because I'm skeptical of what I'll find on Fiverr I decided that I should not start with the lowest price points, but that I should look for specific qualities at a low enough price Port that I can afford and still feel comfortable. Eventually, I found a drummer that sounded like he did good work and reached out to him. He immediately reached back and was eager to work on the project.
I explained what the song was and what it was supposed to sound like, and why I was hiring a djent drummer. I also sent him MIDI files of the parts of the song so that he could understand what the vocals, guitar, and bass would be doing while he was recording. He accepted the files and said that he would be ready to work within a few days.
The first draft that I got of the song sounded more experimental than I was expecting. It sounded like he was looking for the flow of the song and trying out a few things to see what I liked and what I wouldn't like. But on the upside, he understood the timing issues that other musicians seemed to be lost on. So that was good, he understood. That was big progress from other sessions I've had in the past. So again, I tried to explain what I was looking for and that I understood it seemed simple, but that's what I was looking for.
The second draft was a lot closer than the first, but it was still way too busy and in the wrong ways. I was starting to think that maybe he wasn't listening to the midi drum session that I sent earlier and that he was just making it up as he went along. But the improv that he added to the song was phenomenal, even if it was misguided. I was starting to get frustrated, but I didn't want to lose the opportunity of working with a real drummer who had this much talent, and who understood the song timing. He was doing things in the fills that I was completely unable to program on my MPC.
5. The Pocket
The problem was that everything was fills and drum solos. And there was barely anything to work with in-between. What I really needed, was for him to stay in the pocket. This is a drumming term I watched from an instructional video, where this amazing funk drummer demonstrated all of the amazing things that he could do during a particular part of a song, and why he chose to play a simple drum beat instead. He called it the pocket. In essence, the pocket is the backbone of the song. It is steady, solid, and predictable. All these things are needed because if you ever get lost, the pocket brings you back to where you need to be. It's what gives the song its groove. It's what builds anticipation for those amazing fills that we all pay attention to. Without the pocket, drums are just random noise.
That was the problem I was facing. Here I had this amazing, fantastic drummer, who could do all of these amazing fills. But he didn't understand the pocket. So instead of going in for a third dive, I just paid for the session and cut up the recording into rearrangeable loops. There were a few instances where I was able to piece together a simple enough pocket to get a better base for the song. But it still wasn't enough.
6. The Vision, The Hire
As I said, there was absolutely no pocket to work with here. So I just had to go with what was most acceptable when I rearranged the parts. There was even a part in the song where he got lost, and because he didn't have a pocket to fall back on, I had to create one for him by rearranging that section of the song in post-production. What he, and other musicians like him, don't understand is that this is MY song. MY Vision. Not his. He was hired to help me bring that vision to life, but all he did was indulge himself in his own ability. He forgot the purpose of the song, and of drumming. I don't need the drums to outshine everything else in the song. I just need them to be drums. I need them to BUTTRESS the song's strengths. I need a pocket.
So he still hasn't heard the final version of what I did with the tracks that I bought from him. It's still unusable because of a licensing agreement that I wasn't aware of when we first started working. I thought that it would be inexpensive enough to experiment with, and if I didn't like the final product, then I just simply wouldn't buy a commercial license (also a gotcha), and that's where I'm at right now. I simply won't be buying a commercial license for this drum recording because it's unusable. While I was able to derive some semblance of the original vision of the song, if I'm going to work that hard at acceptably rearranging the pieces, I might as well start over from scratch.
I just hope this next time I'm able to find someone whose half as talented as this guy because he's able to do some amazing fills.
Podcast host for The Xero Hour Podcast | Founder of Tentmaker Music | Musician | Family Man | Christian | Conservative | Not in that order